The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows individuals with qualified disabilities to request reasonable accommodations from their employers. When an employee requests an accommodation, the employer is obligated to enter into the “interactive process” with the employee to try and determine what, if any, accommodation can be made. The interactive process is supposed to be an informal exchange between the employer and the employee that necessarily varies as the situation dictates. However, there are some general guidelines that employees should keep in mind as you work through this process with your employer.
(1) It is your responsibility to request a reasonable accommodation. Your employer can’t be expected to accommodate a disability that is has no knowledge of. However, you do not necessarily have to use any “magic” words like reasonable accommodation in your request. Explaining that you have an illness for which you need assistance or requesting additional time off to see your doctor will usually constitute a request for an accommodation. Even if you don’t specifically request an accommodation, if your employer has knowledge of your disability, it has a duty to explore the possibility of accommodation.
(2) The form of your accommodation request must simply put the employer on NOTICE that you need a job adjustment or modification because of a medical condition. The request does not have to be in writing. The request does not even have to be made by you – it can be made on your behalf by another person such as your doctor or a family member.
(3) Once the request has been made, the employer MUST engage in the interactive process. This means your employer must participate in good faith in the process to try and determine a reasonable accommodation for your disability. If your employer does not engage in the process and fails to find an accommodation where one was available, that is a violation of the ADA for which your employer is liable.
(4) It is your responsibility to provide requested information to your employer. Once the interactive process is underway, your employer may ask for medical information or solicit your thoughts on the appropriate accommodation. Failure on the employee’s part to provide information or respond to the employer’s request may mean that your employer is unable to accommodate you. If no accommodation is made because you failed to participate in the process, your employer will not be liable for failing to accommodate you.
(5) Your employer is permitted to seek medical certification by a physician of its choosing. It may sound unfair, especially if your doctor has provided what you believe is sufficient medical documentation supporting your need for accommodation. However, in certain instances, your employer can require medical certification from another doctor – usually a doctor the employer hires.
(6) Your employer does not have to choose your recommended accommodation. If your employer asks for your thoughts on a reasonable accommodation but ultimately decides on a different accommodation, that is not necessarily a violation of the ADA. The employer may choose AMONG reasonable accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation enables the employee to perform his or her essential job functions.
If you or someone you know has questions about reasonable accommodations, the interactive process or other employment matters, contact Hawks Quindel, S.C. to schedule a consultation.
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